Friday, March 29, 2013

Learning to Run

Today I ran when it was almost 70 degrees and very warm for a run. The only sign there had been a foot of snow 5 days ago was the mud I ran through on the trail. But it was a hard run. Some was probably because it's only been 48 hours since my 10-miler, some was my breathing which seems to be impacted both by sleep and by weather changes. But really it was the warmth; that's a new season. I have only run in warm weather a couple times since I started back (before I always ran in warmth it seemed). Today it dawned on me that I almost have to relearn it all now--I made it to 10 miles and now in some ways I start from scratch. I am praying I take to it okay. I am grateful I have a month or so of KC warm before I get central Texas warm. For all the wonderful things about Texas, summer weather is not among them. But maybe that's why I love running even on bad running days--because it is never the same thing twice and it's always a learning process.

I teach a graduate class on learning theory right now. We discuss often what learning actually is, outside of what we say we go to school to do. Most commonly the theorists define it as "a change in behavior." It's not head knowledge or regurtitaion, but actually a change in behavior. I think about that when I ran.

I read a lot about running. I could write articles, for real. First, I studied it a lot years ago when I ran and retained most of it, so I had a large base. But this time as I reread the info (because good running info doesn't change much), it sticks more because I apply it daily. Plus I am working more on distance. I am a real runner--and by that I mean, I do it because I love it. Yes, I am training for a race, and as soon as I get home from Texas after that race, I will be out running again. Some people train for a race for the goal of the race. I see the race as a step to the next distance, the next race. One day, Boston. That is so far off I can't even comprehend it yet. Qualifying times for Boston are crazy low. It's Boston, not Podunk. But when I make it to Boston, even if I am 55, then I will aim for the next goal. I never, ever should have stopped running. It's one of the worst decisions I ever made, though I understand why I did. Making a mistake once is okay, but repeating it isn't learning.

So today I had a bad run. It was hard. It was hot. It was muddy. Too many people were on the trail. My breathing was labored. My legs were weak. I was running on half the sleep I need. I wanted it done. I set out to do a 5K loop on a particular trail. That's all. I ran ten miles two days ago. 5K is not even a third of that. P-uh-lease. Yet it stank.

As I ran, I thought, am I breathing right? I didn't use the inhaler but I had my Singulair, which has reduced the need. Okay, the weather is changing so my breathing will. Breathe in two, out one. Breathe two three, out one. Two three, one. And I tried to remember all the research on breathing and how to time it to footfalls. Breathe 2,3. 1. 2,3. 1. And sometimes I got in a groove and did okay and then I didn't. But you know what I thought? I learned. I was taking book knowledge and putting it into my feet and lungs. Learning is a change in behavior.

After my run, which was actually 3.3 miles--and yes I did keep running because if you stop when it's hard, sometimes that's enough to derail you. So I ran on until I got back to the park where my car was. I looked at my GPS and saw it was 3.26, so figured I could hit 3.3. And finally the run was done.

I inhaled a full bottle of water in about 10 seconds, literally. That right there told me something. I was probably dehydrated. Note to self: Drink lots more water in warm weather. And then I sat there asking myself what was wrong. Why was this run so hard? Water. Heat. Muscle weakness from the 10-miler. No inhaler. What can I do differently so tomorrow's run is better? And I realized then I had crossed another threshold. Casual runners go "that sucked. Hope it will be better tomorrow." Athletes analyze their performance and try to figure out what happened. I looked at my splits. Mile 3 was crazy long for a three miler, but miles 1 and 2 were pretty normal--yet I was headed more downhill (I think) on mile 3. But I was hot and craving water. I don't care much for water, though I drink lots of it. When I crave water on a run it's because my body needs it.

Sometimes I forget that I run a lot--not like an ultra marathoner, of course, but I run quite a few miles in a body that is still overweight. I put wear and tear on a body that gets enough calories but not that many. I am healthy. Despite what all the fitness crazes are right now (don't get me started on the no carb one being a distance runner!), I am healthier than most people I know. My blood pressure is low, my weight is dropping, my skin is in great shape. I am a healthy person. My doctor says so and my trainer says so. But I work hard. I don't walk at all when I go for a run. I do really long runs. I do speed work. I am more focused about my running than anything else in my life. Sometimes I feel like I can do anything as long as I could run while in that season.

So now it's spring for real, and the weather is getting warm, and I'm moving to a really hot climate. And so I will learn. I will evaluate and analyze. As much as all the research is out there, the best research is my own body. If my body craves water at mile 2, then I need water, no matter what research says I can wait 3 or 4 miles. My body is not anyone else's. And maybe that's another reason I like running. I can be an expert at me.

Right now I have a wellness coach, which is an official title. The lady who did my personal training classes at the gym is working on a certification and needed test subjects, so I get free wellness coaching (seriously, my $10 a month gym has really given me more than I have given it in these months). It's really cool because she is a lifelong athlete, certified trainer and teacher, and a runner and biker--and probably other stuff I don't know. She's not some new person who has a fad diet and cool exercise idea. So she's really helpful. It feels like someone gets me in a way lots don't. When I say I am a runner, she gets that I am a runner. It's not a hobby; it's actually part of who I am. I'm not a jogger, or only trying to lose weight. It's like I found my breath again through running

I have said before that running is a perfect combination of the physical, emotional and spiritual. It's not the exclusion of the other two but the rounding out. I am better emotionally, more alive spiritually when I run. Whether I hear music of footfalls and Breathe 2,3. 1. Breathe 2,3. 1 as I run, I hear my heart come alive and my spirit thrive.

Today was the first day people who saw me in person (vs. on Facebook) complimented me on my appearance. It felt really great to hear people say it (for some reason we don't often compliment each other face-to-face, me included). But it's not only about what I look like. What's happening on the outside is happening on the inside--slower actually, but it is. Because I am learning. By learning to run again, I am learning to walk again.

See you on the trail.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

PRs, Long Runs, and Miles of Runner's Highs

I started this blog when I went back to running, but I didn't keep it up. I thought I should write when I hit 5 miles. Then it was 6. At 7 I was really thinking I was behind in recording the nuances. 8 came and went, then 9.5, which I did a week ago, setting my new all-time running record. In between I ran two races and had negative splits in the first one and PRed in my second. I meant to write.

Today I hit 10 miles. Double digits. Broke my record. I look in the mirror after these long runs and just say, "you are amazing." No arrogance. I'm not doing anything all that notable to most runners, but that this body can run 10 miles is amazing. My body is amazing. It's still got too much weight on it. And my back hurts after 8 miles. And I don't run fast. But I run. Every step. I don't walk. I am a runner. I really am. I'm committed and dedicated and love it. And it's changed everything.

My schedule is driven by my runs. I won't change a run for social time. My run is the most important thing I "do" each day. It's not the most important thing in life and it's not the most crucial part of everything, but of all available outside time, my run gets priority. I got to work with running tights on underneath so I can do a SuperGirl act in the car and stop at a new trail wherever I am in the city.

I run in wind, rain, snow, sleet, and soon in heat. I run because I am a runner. Runners run.

I said a couple entries ago how I never "got over" running. It always felt like the one that got away. I got it back. I am happiest when I am running. I was before and I am now. So much is unsettled, and so many changes have come. I am at the tail end of a year that brought many things it shouldn't have (as well as some good ones). But I found running. I got it back, and that makes it worthwhile.

In less than 4 months, I have exceeded where I was in those prior years of running. It takes dedication but it doesn't take athletic ability or skill. It's easy but it's hard. It feels amazing but it hurts. It's something I have always paralleled spiritually and to life. The lessons I learn on the road, whether in a short 40 minute run of a 2 hour run, those lessons are reality.

I'll leave you with a promise to update more and some random thoughts from my ten-miler today:

1) It's easier to do long runs in new places. Today I knew many places I might try would be filled with snow, so I was relegated to Indian Creek, which is a great place to run, but too familiar. Psychologically, it was much harder than physically because I always knew how far away I was and it "felt" far.

2) I know some people walk/run but I don't because for me, running is easy when it's the repeated action of the knees going up and down. As soon as I stop that action, it becomes hard to start again. It's almost reflexive in nature.

3) Singulair is amazing. Although I stopped hacking with albuterol, I wasn't getting deep enough breaths. I told my doctor I wanted Singulair and he gave me a prescription. I have ZERO trouble breathing now--which means I should pick up the speed, but on a long run, I am going for distance. I am just so GRATEFUL for medicine even though the ideal is to be totally off of it. I think when I am back in a humid climate that will also help. Mostly I need to strengthen my core more (and it's pretty strong) because my back hurts by mile 8 or so.

4) My favorite playlist only lasts me 7 miles. I really, really need new songs.

5) Pink Magic are my favorite shoes ever (even than that old pair of orange and white Reebok DMX that I never got over them not making again). The new Asics Gel Nimbus shoes are ugly and so I will wear Pink Magic and their siblings all year.

6) I LOVE running up that little hill that leads off the trail and on to Mission Blvd. with all the traffic. Running across that bridge to get to the park across the street feels like conquering the world or something.

7) Running on snow is so much better than in melted snow when you can't run around it--and spent the last two miles of the run with sopping wet feet.

8) The worst part of a long run is having to fuel during it. There are no easy answers. Energy gels, Powerade, sport beans, all of it is gross while running but absolutely necessary. Same with water. I need to start planting it because I hate carrying it but fuel belts are worse.

9) An hour after I got home I had a residual runner's high and started crying because I was so amazed at how far I've come.

10) If you hate your body, start running. I don't mean to lose weight, though if you eat well you probably will. When you do things like PR a 5K or run 8, 9, 10 miles and you were the fat kid or the unathletic one, you come home and look in the mirror and see everything in a new light. My body is amazing. What's to hate? I just ran 10 miles. Throw out the therapy and inner healing, and go live. A few runs has done more for my self image than anything else could have.

I am a runner. I am amazing because I beat myself every day, even when all the other runners pass me on the trail.